Dry mouth — also called xerostomia (zero-STOW-me-uh) — is often caused by a lack of saliva. Saliva coats and moistens oral tissues. It cleanses your mouth and helps digest foods as they are chewed. But if you do not make enough saliva, harmful germs can grow in your mouth.
Dry mouth can be the result of other health issues or the treatments for them.
Problems from Dry Mouth
Drying irritates the soft tissues in your mouth, which can make them sore and can lead to infections. Without good saliva flow to keep your mouth clean, tooth decay and gum disease become much more common. Constant dryness may lead to more cavities and bad breath. It can also lead to:
- trouble with tasting, swallowing, chewing or speaking
- burning feeling in your mouth
- dryness in your throat
- cracked lips
- dry and rough tongue
Dry mouth can also make full dentures less comfortable to wear. This is because there is
no thin film of saliva to help dentures hold on
well to oral tissues.
Causes of Dry Mouth
The most common cause of dry mouth is medications people take to treat other problems. Dry mouth is a side effect of more than 400 prescription and over-the-counter medications. These include:
- medicines for allergies, colds and high blood pressure
- pain killers
Read the drug inserts that come with your medicines. If you see dry mouth listed as a side effect, you should tell your dentist, hygienist or physician.
In some cases, it may be possible that a change
in medicine may help.
Dry mouth also can be caused by other factors. These can include:
- radiation treatment for head and neck cancers
- salivary gland disease (such as Sjögren syndrome)
- emotional stress
Dry Mouth Relief
Drinking more fluids throughout the day can help. Your dentist or physician may suggest that you use a special gel or liquid (available at drugstores) to keep oral tissues moist. Other ways to manage dry mouth include:
- chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on sugar-free hard candy to increase saliva flow
- sipping water with meals to moisten dry food
- sucking on ice chips during the day
- keeping the air moist with a humidifier at your bedside or other places in your home
- using over-the-counter saliva tablets to increase saliva flow
- applying a lanolin-based ointment to dry lips
- sipping water often
- using alcohol-free mouthwash
- avoiding caffeine, alcohol, tobacco and carbonated drinks
Regular dental checkups are important if you have dry mouth. Tell your dentist about the medicines you are taking and any health problems you are having.
You must take good care of your teeth and gums to help prevent tooth decay and gum disease. Brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and for two minutes each time. Use floss or use another between-the-teeth cleaner at least once a day. This will remove bits of food from tight places your toothbrush cannot reach.
When choosing a dental product, check to see if it has the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance. This means the product is proven to be safe and effective.
Together, you and your dentist can manage dry mouth to bring you relief.